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COVID-19 Rapid Response: IMBA involved in 3 WWTF funded projects

The Vienna Science, Research and Technology Fund (WWTF) supports Viennese universities and research institutions with "COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding" - IMBA is involved in three projects to conduct potentially life-saving research and collect valuable data in a timely manner and to expand testing capacities

WWTF funding for COVID-19 research

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic must probably be described as the biggest break in recent history, which poses enormous challenges for the entire world and thus also for Austria. Science has a decisive role to play in overcoming the crisis - which is why the WWTF has launched the "COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding" on an ad hoc basis. It is intended to help researchers to collect valuable data in a timely manner, which are needed, among other things, to be able to react quickly now.

The WWTF is providing a total of more than one million euros for this purpose, funded by the private non-profit WWTF and for individual projects by other private actors, including the MEGA-Bildungsstiftung of the B&C and Berndorf Private Foundations.

Understanding and fighting the virus

The Penninger laboratory has previously provided the first genetic evidence that Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is the critical receptor for SARS-CoV and that ACE2 protects multiple tissues from organ damage. This enzyme has now also been identified as a key receptor for SARS-CoV-2 infections and it has been proposed that inhibiting this interaction might be used in treating patients with COVID-19.

Very recently, researchers were able to publish that SARS-CoV2 can infect organoids of blood vessels. To gain a fundamental understanding of SARS-CoV2 infections of blood vessels, it is now proposed to generate large amounts of these organoids and to study the cytotoxicity of the virus and the gene expression profiles of infected blood vessels in single cells in vitro and in vivo, with and without soluble ACE2, which is currently being tested in clinical trials for COVID19 patients.
The Penninger research group at IMBA is part of an international network of tissue engineers, SMEs (e.g. Apeiron developing ACE2 for therapy), and virologists and aims to dissect, at the single cell level, the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 infections in human vascular organoids in the presence and absence of hrsACE2, which is undergoing clinical testing for COVID19 patients.

In a second project, IMBA is also involved in a collaboration with the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences. Here the interaction of SARS-CoV-2 with human cells is in focus, in particular the protein-protein interaction between the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and the human Ace2 receptor. The researchers have developed a complete model of the spike-Ace2 interaction with complete glycosylation.


Vienna COVID 19 Diagnostics Initiative

Another focus is the rapid expansion of test capacities and the rapid conversion of laboratory infrastructure to improve test capacity during the COVID 19 pandemic. Together with Max F. Perutz Laboratories (University of Vienna); the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science (University of Vienna); the IMP; GMI, IMBA is part of this collaborative diagnostic initiative. The aim is to re-use the standard laboratory infrastructure for improved test capacity. This includes the fully automated extraction of viral RNA, its detection by high-throughput qPCR, the production of in-house, affordable reagents and the establishment of logistical / diagnostic interfaces to existing healthcare providers.